Fred Rickaby: Jockey who became a trainer known for his scientific methods
Wednesday 10 March 2010
The recent obsession in genealogy, fostered by websites and television programmes would have held little interest to Fred Rickaby, the leading jockey and racehorse trainer. He knew exactly who he was and, in a business where pedigree matters, realised all expectations with a life that was as successful and fulfilled as it was long.
Born in Newmarket in 1916, he was one of the most distinguished and widely respected members of a prominent racing family. His father, Frederick Lester Rickaby, rode five Classic winners, his grandfather Fred three, and his great-great grandfather, yet another Fred, trained Wild Dayrell to win the 1855 Derby. And his aunt Iris became mother of one Lester Piggott.
Rickaby and his younger brother Bill lost their father, killed while serving with the Royal Tank Corps in France in 1918, as babies. After prep school they were apprenticed to their uncle and guardian Walter Griggs, who had a training stable in Newmarket. Fred was an immediate success; he rode his first winner at 14 and was champion apprentice the following two years, during the second of which he succeeded Gordon Richards as first jockey to one of the country's leading owners, Lord Glanely.
His precocious talent as a Flat race rider, though, was short-lived; at 17 he was too heavy for the job. It was Bill who carried on the family tradition in that sphere as one of the most gifted jockeys of his generation.
Fred became a pupil assistant to the Newmarket trainer Colledge Leader, who had taken over from George Lambton at Lord Derby's Stanley House Stables, and then transferred his riding talents to the jumps. He became one of the best without ever being champion; his opportunities were compromised by the Second World War, during which he served in the RAF, flying Spitfires. His skill and gallantry brought him the Air Force Cross and Bar. One of his last victories in the saddle as that part of his life wound down was on the subsequent Champion Hurdle winner National Spirit at Doncaster in December 1946.
Less than a year later Rickaby, who briefly kept a pub near Peterborough, emigrated to South Africa with his wife and two sons to escape post-war austerity. There, he forged a highly successful career as a trainer, first in the Transvaal, then in Durban and finally at the purpose-built complex at Summerveld, north of that city.
He won most of South Africa's major prizes and, thanks to the exploits of two top-class horses, Sledgehammer and Majestic Crown, became his adopted country's champion in the 1975-76 season. His victories included the Natal Derby with Beau Sabreur, the Cape of Good Hope Derby with Aztec, the Cape Guineas with Savonarola, the Durban July Handicap with Jollify, Naval Escort and Sledgehammer, and the Holidays Inns Handicap with Majestic Crown.
Rickaby was also a producer of jockeys. One of his stable apprentices was John Gorton, who later won the Oaks at Epsom on Sleeping Partner. More famous was Michael Roberts, who was with him for the early stages of a glittering career during which he became Britain's champion in 1992.
The New Zealand-bred Sledgehammer was a genuinely top-class horse who would have shone in any arena but was running before the era of open international competition. He won 21 of his 31 starts over five seasons, a tribute to his trainer's excellence as a horseman. One of Rickaby's fascinations was with equine physiology; he absorbed knowledge like a sponge and was undoubtedly ahead of his time in both his application of methods and his rejection of the chemical short-cuts then prevalent in South Africa.
After his retirement in 1978 he wrote books of instruction and reminiscence, with the encouragement of his late second wife Molly Reinhardt, a successful journalist and author, and when he returned to Britain in 1986 continued to use his self-taught skills as a chiropractor and physiotherapist with trainers in Newmarket.
One of his last visits to a racecourse was in December 2008 to Market Rasen, the Lincolnshire jumping track where he had ridden 60 years previously. Among the many links with the history of the sport he loved severed by his death at the age of 93 was the fact that he was probably the last person living to have ridden the great horse Hyperion, whom he partnered on the Newmarket gallops in 1934 in his time with Leader.
Frederick Arthur Rickaby, jockey and trainer; born Newmarket 26 February 1916; married firstly (one son, and one son deceased), secondly Molly Reinhardt (deceased); died Boston, Lincolnshire 30 January 2010.
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